The List: Best bass players ever (according to a bass player)

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Editor's Note:With Primus' Les Claypool bringinghis bass-forward band to the LC this weekend, we decided to ask for some expert advice in picking the best bass players ever. Lydia Loveless' bassist/husband Ben Lamb sharedhis personal picks from the road.

Cliff Burton

Cliff's aggressive fingerstyle approach to the bass gave him a unique tone in the genre of thrash metal, but what really set Burton apart from his contemporaries were his compositional contributions. And to a 14-year-old me, he seemed like the coolest dude on the planet.

Listen to: "The Call of Ktulu," "Orion"

James Jamerson

Motown's first-call session bass player, Jamerson laid down tracks on hundreds of hits in the '60s and '70's. Often starting with just a rough chord chart, Jameson would sometimes improvise a part that instantly became the song's signature riff. He was often uncredited, but bass players around the world could tell something special was going on at the bottom. When I'm short on ideas for a part, I listen to some old Motown, and think "What would Jamerson do here?" And then I blatantly try to rip him off.

Listen to: "I Was Made to Love Her," "What's Going On?"

Donald "Duck" Dunn

A session player for Memphis' Stax Records, Dunn's soulful and propulsive lines provided a counterpoint to Jamerson's more flamboyant style. They played virtually identical basses, but each produced their own signature tones, which is a testament to the greatness of both. Dunn also has only 3 spoken lines in 1980's "The Blues Brothers," and they are each profane and hilarious.

Listen to: "Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay," "Green Onions"

Jaco Pastorius

When Jaco ripped the frets out of his Fender Jazz Bass, he invented the vocabulary of modern electric fretless bass. He pushed the limits of bass playing with his approach to harmonics, chords, feedback and, unfortunately, tragic excess. When he first arrived in NYC in the '70s, he would look up famous musicians, knock on their doors and declare "Hi, I'm Jaco, the best bass player in the world." And he was.

Listen to: "Portrait of Tracy," "Come On, Come Over"

Paul McCartney

Go ahead, listen to "Silly Love Songs." The only things on that track are Paul's vocals, his melodic, driving bass line and that horn part. Playing it on bass while singing is a sublime musical juggling act and a fun game for your fingers. What's wrong with that?

Listen to: "Silly Love Songs"

Steve Harris

Harris' driving root-fifth bass playing has provided the bottom end for Iron Maiden since their 1980 debut, and his galloping right-hand technique (and "machine-gunning the crowd" move) have given countless youths (and maybe a few 45-year-olds) bedroom air-bass fodder for decades. My first concert was Iron Maiden when I was 13, and it ruined me for life. THANKS, STEVE.

Listen to: "Run To the Hills," "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

Trent Arnold

After decades of being raised on riff-rock and scalar metal, I heard Trent play and he turned my ears around. When Trent is playing in your band, nothing will dislodge him from the groove. If he fell off the stage and landed on his face, he would do so in perfect time and it would end up being the best part of the song.

Listen to: The Lilybandits, Woah Nellie!

Scott LaFaro

LaFaro developed a counterpoint approach to the bass, and thus brought a classical style to jazz bass. Allegedly he studied using a clarinet book, and freed himself from the traditional walking lines everyone else used. He died at 25, but left behind some of the best jazz recordings ever with the Bill Evans Trio.

Listen to: "Gloria's Step," "Waltz for Debby"